The Serendipity of Agnés Varda

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipədē/ noun

  1. the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”

Three film festivals. Three opportunities to celebrate Agnés Varda.

Telluride Film Festival (TFF46) dedicated their festival to her memory. Mill Valley (MVFF42) hosted Mind the Gap celebrating women in the industry and screened a film featuring Varda, Serendipity. Varda would applaud the festival’s (lead by the wonderful Zoe Elton) gender equity mission to have 50% of films feature women directors programmed by 2020. Denver (DFF42) also screened Varda by Agnés and has a great Women + Film program started 14 years ago by Tammy Brislin and supported, and now lead, by Barbara Bridges and her foundation.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Telluride tribute and screening of Varda by Agnés. What an incredible panel with her family and friends there to speak. Martin Scorsese spoke about her visit with JR to his The Irishmen set. She teased him about his lack of female characters. They seemed to have had a warm relationship and he considers her a great talent. Varda’s daughter and son discussed carrying on her vision and what it was like growing up with a mother who documented their lives wherever they lived. Tom Luddy, a founder of the festival, is actually featured in the documentary! He introduced Varda to her uncle in Sausalito and helped get her crew together to film their meeting–Uncle Yanco, in 1967. He was also instrumental in encouraging her to film the Black Panther movement in Oakland. It was a pleasure to hear him speak and then see a younger Tom Luddy on the big screen.

Those serendipitous moments continued. I traveled to Mill Valley to help manage the Outdoor Art Club for the festival and one of our events was a reception for Serendipity. Prune Nourry’s documentary is her story of how her work as a sculptor and her journey through breast cancer was incredibly intertwined; reflected and refracted. She is a French sculptor married to the art photographer JR. The film includes a sequence filmed by Varda when Prune Nourry shaves her head. During the Q & A after the screening, Nourry revealed that during that filming, Varda had breast cancer too. “She had the young woman’s version of cancer, aggressive and fast”, Nourry said shaking her head. “I had the old woman version, slow to spread and easier to stop.” Agnés would die of her breast cancer a few months later.

The documentary is powerful and beautiful and celebrates the transcendence of art. It was also incredibly personal to me having myself had a breast biopsy and a family that has suffered the ravages of breast cancer. The night of the screening, I had just received news of a new case of breast cancer in my own family. What a sad serendipity. Watching JR, in his sunglasses even at the evening film screening, supporting his wife as she travels with her film, I thought of the wonderful film, Faces, Places (Visages Villages). And again, there was the frission of synchronicity.

Now I’m the Denver Film Festival and the one film that fit into the schedule for my two busy film festival buddies…Varda by Agnés. As we had drinks post-film, I shared the story of Prune Nourry’s connection to Varda and my own relationship to her film, Serendipty. My life is full of serendipity and I’m grateful for my wonderful friends who share my journey. Now I want to get back to SF to visit JR’s photography exhibit at SFMOMA…on thru April 2020.

Ticket in hand, why is it so hard to get to my theater seat? Film Festival navigation 101

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Red carpet for filmmakers to walk…no, not YOU! You go get in line!

Movie-goers are accustomed to purchasing tickets online a few hours before a show or at the door. Then you show your ticket and waltz right in to get your popcorm and find your theater seat. Easy peasy.

Film Festivals are an animal of another color. Tickets must be purchased well in advance or you risk finding out your film is at RUSH (Sold Out expect for the brave souls waiting to purchase last minute tickets). Once you pick up your tickets and make it to the theater, what do you find? Lines, lines, lines. Usually there’s a Members Only line, a general admission line, a Will Call line and a Rush line…all of one screening. There are always more than one screening, so the lines are long and often intimidating.

Telluride Film Festival has giant queues but hands out queue cards and patrons are very good about lining up in order and respecting their place in line. At Mill Valley Film Festival, the lines snake around the block but filmgoers are discussing what films to see and are usually pretty amicable. Denver Film Festival has a problem in their signature theater, the SIE Film Center because the lobby is so small. The screening rooms are also small but if one show runs late and two shows are trying to load, oy vey!

Another issue for all film festivals is getting from one screening to another. Telluride Film Festival has an app that lets you estimate the time from one screening location to the other and what your chances are to get into that film. For other film festivals where you must get in a car (or a Lyft) and drive across town (or to another town for MVFF), you must carefully plan your screenings to leave time for traffic, parking, etc. For instance, yesterday I had a screening at the SIE, After an hour in line, I was finally seated, and the screening only started 10 minutes late. But my next screening was at the Denver Pavilions and it was 5:30pm! Yes, I made it to the parking lot in time but the line to PAY for parking was 12 deep and full of Friday night dating couples. There was no way to make it inside to my screening.

This year, I’ve missed a lot of screenings due to filmmaker Q&A’s going long, movies starting late and films booked back to back with no room for dilly dallying. Good thing there’s always another film in a few hours…and a coffee shop or bar to discuss the last screening. As a programmer, I know I’ve scheduled films too close…as a film attendee, I know I’ve purchased tickets to screenings that in hindsight, I’d need a teleporter to make on time. So take a word of caution, leave time for lunch or cocktails and space your films appropriately!

Happy Festivaling!

 

Mill Valley Film Festival 37–growing pains or “Do you know who I am?”

MVFF37 swagThe Mill Valley Film Festival kicked off with a rollicking good time last night.  If patrons were disappointed in the any of the Opening Night films…well, they had a fabulous party to enjoy on a balmy Indian Summer night!  There were three films: The Homesman with the star Hilary Swank in attendance, Men Women & Children  with the director, Jason Reitman and his young star, Kaitlyn Dever, and Laggies (which the busy actress, Kaitlyn Dever was also featured in!) playing in separate theaters in Mill Valley, Corte Madera and San Rafael.

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The Brothers Comatose rock the tent at Opening Night Party

MVFF always has an amazing program of diverse films.  There are wonderful documentaries, great shorts programs and many International films that never get screened at your local movie theater.  It’s a gorgeous setting in Marin County, though you do need a car and patience with parking.  The festival staff that come in for the show are seasoned professionals and we have a lot of fun working together.  What this festival also has–is growing pains, and a sense of entitlement from some patrons, board members and even some year-round staff.

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Coming from my recent experience at the Telluride Film Festival where I never heard “Do you know who I am?” to a festival where something like that is said or implied every day–well, it’s a shock!  There are 15 different badges with different privileges assigned to each.  The wealthy and well-heeled are favored in all things.  There are patrons not willing to stand in line, upset over seating options, cranky if they can’t have sponsor seats and staff that cater to their every whim during the rest of the year.  It’s the donor dollars that keep the CA Film Institute afloat year-round!  And for staff that are used to having the where withal (and the patience!) to make the patrons feel special at the many screenings featuring the Hollywood stars and/or directors throughout the year…festival time is a challenge!

When patrons used to sitting in their favorite seats walk into a theater that is a sea of reserved seats, there is bound to be push back!  For festival ticket-holders who feel they’ve already spent more than they would for a film, then had to wait in a line, THEN arrive to find they will be sitting in the back row…it can be an unpleasant surprise.

So much of the issues at Mill Valley Film Festival are due to small venues and patrons who want to see celebrities.  There are long lines and film lovers must wait in the sun while those who’ve paid the big bucks get to go in first.  Here we have this wonderful film festival with talented filmmakers from all over the world in this gorgeous setting—and a mad dash to get the best seats.

Do you know who I am?  Well, I hope that you are a film-lover who is thrilled to be part of this shared experience.  Let’s all remember, it’s a Festival.  Don’t forget to be Festive!!